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Massachusetts Governor Deploys State National Guard to Address Bus Driver Shortage

Dozens of Massachusetts National Guard members will begin training Tuesday in four cities to address the state’s bus driver shortage, Governor Charlie Baker said this week.

Baker’s order will send 90 members of the Guard to Chelsea, Lowell, Lawrence and Lynn to serve as drivers, the governor said in a statement on Monday.

“These Guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans known as 7D vehicles to address staff shortages in some districts,” the statement said.

Baker’s order makes up to 250 members of the Guard available, according to the announcement.

“As with any school bus worker, all activated Guard personnel will undergo vehicle training to keep children and families safe. Pilots will meet all legal requirements for 7D pilots. Throughout the mission, the Guard will comply with all health and safety measures. The mission will not interfere with the ability of the Massachusetts National Guard to respond and assist in emergencies within the Commonwealth, ”the statement said.

Baker tweeted on Monday, “Safe and reliable transportation to school every day is essential to the safety and education of our children. “

Chelsea is approximately 4.5 miles northeast of Boston, while Lynn is approximately 12 miles north of the state capital. Lowell and Lawrence are both located about 30 miles north of Boston in the Merrimack Valley.

NBC Boston reported that Lowell Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd said in a statement that 15 members of the guard will be available by the end of the week and that they will be working until the district hires enough. permanent drivers to fill vacant positions.

“The shortage of school bus drivers has been a challenge for school districts across the country this year. We have worked with the Ministry of Elementary and Secondary Education to find solutions to transport students safely to and from school every day. We are grateful for Governor Baker’s partnership, ”Boyd said.

Baker also proposed members of the Guard to Boston, but city officials said they didn’t want them right away.

Boston Mayor Kim Janey said the vast majority of buses arrived within 15 minutes of starting school on Monday, NBC Boston reported.

The outlet also reported that under state law, 7D vehicles cannot carry more than 10 passengers and must weigh less than 10,000 pounds.

Drivers must have a special certificate, and Monday’s announcement noted that members of the Guard working on the mission “meet all legal requirements for 7D drivers.”

School districts across the country are facing a shortage of school bus drivers, which has hampered the start of the school year in Boston, NBC Boston reported.

The Boston School Bus Drivers Union had lobbied to postpone the start of the year, calling the situation “the worst fiasco we’ve seen in our careers,” according to the NBC Boston report. The union said the district gave them more than 100 more routes than in previous years at the last minute.

The shortage of drivers is nothing new, but a labor shortage in many sectors and the lingering effects of the pandemic made it worse, as around half of the workforce was over 65. years and older vulnerable to the virus, said Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of school bus service company HopSkipDrive, which tracks school bus problems.

And it’s not just Massachusetts that suffers from a shortage of bus drivers.

Schools across the country are offering hiring bonuses, increasing hourly wages, and providing training to obtain commercial driver’s licenses. The problem is just another hurdle district officials face as they struggle to keep campuses open amid the highly contagious delta variant of Covid-19.

A Montana school district suspended $ 4,000 in bonuses and called on people to test drive school buses in hopes of getting them to accept work. A Delaware school district offered to pay parents $ 700 to arrange for their own transportation, and a Pittsburgh district delayed the start of classes and said hundreds more children would have to walk to get to the school. ‘school.